Pierre Auguste Renoir
Portrait of Mme. Paulin
Oil on canvas
81.7 x 58.3 cm
Gift of Ogden Phipps, New York, through the America-Israel Cultural Foundation
Accession number: B72.0018
By the end of the 1870s, Renoir’s concerted effort to become a portraitist to rich Parisians had met with success. He no longer took part in the exhibitions held by the Impressionists, feeling that by distancing himself from them and exhibiting instead at the Salon he would end the accusations that he was a revolutionary. Also, the soft focused, indistinct style he had developed early in the decade had begun to trouble him aesthetically, as well as being a deterrent to commissions.
For some three years, from 1879 to 1882, Renoir was financially well off. His growing friendships with the upper class led to orders for portraits, and increased the likelihood of his acceptance at the Salon. The commissioned portraits, which number more than half of his figure paintings of this time, were treated in a clear, substantial way. Although he did not revert to the limited palette, dark shadows, and smooth finish propagated by the academic artists, he reduced visible strokes and reflected colors in favor of sensuous details and rich textures. Nevertheless, he would soon tire of these kinds of assignments and begin searching for a way to renew his art.
Mme. Paulin (née Jeanne Trinquesse) was not one of Renoir’s high-society commissions but rather a portrait of the wife of a friend. Paul Paulin (1852–1937) was a dentist, sculptor, and collector, who sometimes acted as an intermediary to help the Impressionists sell their works. He sculpted Renoir’s portrait and owned at least one other important painting by the artist, Mother and Children, 1875–1876 (Frick Collection, New York). Painted following a period of artistic soul-searching, our Mme. Paulin exhibits the thick, hatched strokes, strong colors, and porcelainlike skin tones usually associated with Renoir’s portraits of the late 1880s.
Mme. Paulin is wearing a modest, high-necked, long-sleeved dress, but the tight waist nevertheless shows off her fine figure. Her frock appears to be of sheer black fabric over a smooth, yellow-gold material that flickers in the light, and her hands are encased in fashionable, black leather gloves. The gold in her bracelets, pin, earrings, and dress is echoed in the background, linking her to it despite the strong red-black color contrast. As in many of Renoir’s paintings, the sitter’s eyes seem unaware of either artist or viewer. She has the dreamy, meditating countenance that the Impressionists favored as a way of mitigating the posed quality of traditional portraits.